Q: Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road and…

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Why Build Homes on the Water Side of Levees??

John Settle-Opinion-May 2015The first inquiry is an age-old question that generally leads to a joke; the second is a not a trick question but the answer is a “joke” in and of itself. For some unexplained reason, the local state and national media has focused on the relatively small number (25 at most??) expensive houses that have been flooded in two subdivisions—one on each side of the Red River—and the impact of the unprecedented flood waters on these abodes and the owners of now greatly devalued properties. Scant attention has been given to the question of why build on the water side of the levee to begin with—and why not recognize the flood risk on the front end before purchase and construction versus on the back end after the devastating flooding.

Bossier Flooded Homes-over leveeInitially it should be noted that homeowners in Bossier’s River Bluff subdivision now own properties that can probably never be restored/refurnished to their pre-flood grandeur. The same can be said of those homes in Shreveport’s Sur de la Maisson built on the wrong side of the levee. The values of these houses is probably less than 50% of the pre-flood values, and absent the construction of new levees between the houses and the river, the houses may never be marketable. And even though homes in Shreveport’s The Haven subdivision did not flood due in large part to several $3000 a day pumps rented by the homeowner’s association, these residences have probably lost 25% of their market value that will not be recoverable in the foreseeable future.

Inverse-CondemnationAs explained by Bossier Parish attorney Patrick “Tuffy” Jackson, the Parish faced inverse condemnation litigation if home building in River Bluff had been prohibited. According to Jackson, subdivision developers had obtained approval of the Bossier Metropolitan Planning Commission only after the riverside subdivision had been approved by both the Bossier Levee District and the Red River Valley Association. In effect, the developers jumped through the regulatory hoops to get authority to build “water side”—leaving the buyers in the age old caveat of “the buyer beware”situation. And from that point on, the rest is history for these ill-fated homeowners.

The high profile River Bluff homeowners somehow warranted an unprecedented taxpayer funded effort to save the homes from flood damage—and in effect from their own decisions that now appear to be unjustified if not foolhardy. Substantial hours were expended utilizing inmate labor to fill and then stack sandbags around these homes. Bossier Sheriff Whittington opened an emergency substation to regulate the activities in this area and to deliver supplies to those homeowners who remained in their homes without electrical service. Although the total costs for these efforts will not be known until after the next round of anticipated flooding recedes, many Bossier residents are openly questioning the Sheriff’s extraordinary efforts to save the riverfront castles that will now have a reduced ad valorem tax value due to the flooding.

flood-insurance-guideA regular homeowner’s policy does not provide coverage for this type of flooding and flood insurance will not be the answer for the flooded Shreveport and Bossier residents—if they had such coverage. Houses built in flood zones, which surely these two areas are, almost always must have flood insurance if the houses are financed; mortgage lenders require this to protect their mortgages. The maximum amount of flood insurance that can be purchased on “regular’ flood policies is $250,000—and very rarely are flood policies issued in excess of those amounts. If the homeowner wants to protect his equity in the home versus just the mortgage balance, then additional coverage must be purchased as well as flood coverage for contents.

Local insurance agents report that the purchase of additional flood protection is the rare exception to the rule. And in case those flooded homeowners have now seen the light—as to the need for their own flood policies –there is a 30 day waiting period for coverage after a policy is purchased. So it’s too late to purchase coverage for the next flooding projected in a few days.

As expected the flooding of these two subdivisions (especially River Bluff) has attracted the attention of elected officials who have had boat tours of the area—all vowing to uncover the culprits and make all things right. Fingers have been pointed at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center, the National Flood Insurance Program and the National Weather Service. In a cruel twist of fate the lock and dams built to stabilize and make the Red River navigable have probably contributed to the problem—along with Mother Nature who has dumped an excess of 50% of annual rainfall on this area as well as the upstream areas of the Red River basin in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Russell Road in Shreveport’s Martin Luther King area
Russell Road in Shreveport’s Martin Luther King area

The media has unfortunately given scant attention to the flooding on Russell Road in Shreveport’s Martin Luther King area. Of course pictures of very very modest housing in Shreveport’s poorest area—many of which were tenant occupied—is not as “sexy” as repeated ad nauseum highlights of “struggling” homeowners living beside the river. The MLK area suffered flooding from the backwaters of 12 Mile Bayou and Cross Bayou that could not flow into the Red River because of the excessive water flow from upstream areas. These property owners were equally devastated by the flooding, and on an economic scale, probably suffered more real damages than their affluent fellow residents on both sides of the river.

The recent vote by the Bossier Police Jury to impose a 90 day moratorium on new home construction and developments located between levees and the Red River will allow time for the Corp of Engineers to collect information and determine a Base Flood Elevation for areas where the river topped its banks and flooded homes in subdivisions located inside levees. This action did not revoke permits that had been issued nor does it halt construction already underway. Seemingly logic would have dictated that course of action after the flooding, but then good reasoning seemingly was not a factor for those seeking riverfront views and now have relied on public resources to rescue them from what most consider to be poor decisions. And even in the free state of Bossier most citizens are just shaking their heads over the “why build on the river side of the levee” issue – – and the over the top reaction of public officials for such a limited number of residents.

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